Sarah Bavly

October 18, 1900–1993

by Ronit Endevelt

Dutch-born Sarah Bavly (1900 – 1993) was a pioneer nutritionist in the Yishuv who laid the groundwork for Israel's nutritional infrastructure and educational programming, directing Hadassah's hospital nutrition departments and school lunch programs, and establishing the State's first College of Nutrition.

Institution: Miriam Bavly.

In Brief

Sarah Bavly earned an M.S. in chemistry from the University of Amsterdam in 1925 and took an extra year to study nutrition and economics before immigrating to Palestine, where she taught nutrition and chemistry. Bavly became chief dietician for Hadassah’s five hospitals as well as its school lunch program in 1929. Over the next several years, she trained the public in proper nutrition, sent food to Haganah outposts and camps for new immigrants, and weathered riots and attacks in Jerusalem. In 1953 she established a College of Nutrition and Home Economics with a rigorous two-year program for teacher training and served as director and dean until her retirement in 1965. She was declared an honorary Citizen of Jerusalem in 1984 for her years of service.

A leading member of a small group of pioneer nutritionists who worked in Palestine prior to the establishment of the state of Israel and in the years following 1948, Sarah Bavly played a major role both in establishing nutritional services and, even more significantly, in developing nutrition education as a recognized and respected academic discipline.

Early Life and Education

Sarah Bavly was born in Amsterdam on October 18, 1900, the youngest of the five children of Nathan (b. Bialystok, Poland, August 1, 1856, d. Jerusalem, December 1, 1934) and Lina-Leah (née Meyerson, b. Suwalki, Poland, May 7, 1863, d. Jerusalem, May 14, 1942). Nathan and Lina-Leah were married in 1891. The family was religiously observant; all five children were active members of the Zionist youth movement, and all emigrated to Palestine between 1919 and 1926, followed by their parents in 1927. Sarah's two older sisters, Adele (1892–1975) and Emma (1893–1980) trained to become language teachers, but, once in Jerusalem, took up other professions. Adele became a senior secretary at the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet Le-Israel), while Emma studied nursing and eventually became the head of the WIZO school of child-care. One brother, Eliezer (1895–1980), was treasurer of the Jewish Agency, while the other, Yitzchak (1898–1970), served as Israel’s ambassador to South Africa before being appointed the UN Secretary-General’s representative for developing countries.

Sarah studied chemistry at the University of Amsterdam, completing her M.S. degree in 1925. On the advice of her friend, Mirjam de Leeuw, who had preceded her to Palestine, she spent a further year in the Netherlands, taking specialized training in nutrition and economics in order to have a useful profession upon Lit. "ascent." A "calling up" to the Torah during its reading in the synagogue.aliyah.

Teaching in Palestine and Studying in America

Sarah Bavly began her work in October 1926, teaching nutrition and chemistry at the WIZO agricultural school in Nahalal—a job she had been offered while still in the Netherlands. Here she greatly admired her students, women her own age whose aspirations she idealized to such a degree that, when they revolted against the school examinations, she came to their support. This action led to her leaving the school in April 1927, in order to work as dietitian at the Hadassah hospital in Tel Aviv. Soon afterwards, asked to teach nutrition and dietetics at the Hadassah Nursing School in Jerusalem, she became the country's first instructor in these subjects.

After one year of work, Dr. Ephraim Michael Bluestone, Director of Hadassah, offered her a year’s study abroad in order to prepare herself for the position of Hadassah’s chief dietitian, in charge of all five of its hospitals, in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Safed, and Tiberias as well as managing the school lunch programs. Arriving in the U.S. in August 1928, she began by spending a short period of internship at the Montefiore Hospital in New York City before enrolling at Columbia University’s Teachers’ College, where—in view of her prior studies in chemistry—she was permitted to complete her M.S. degree in one year. She also spent a month during her vacation doing practical work at the Diet Clinic in Boston to learn how to manage the system of school lunches that had been introduced in Palestine a few years earlier.

Returning to Palestine in August 1929, full of new ideas as to how to apply her knowledge, she learned that in addition to the post of chief dietitian at Hadassah’s five hospitals, which would include establishing and supervising dietary departments at all of them, she was also expected to establish a Nutrition Department at the newly-erected Nathan Straus Health Center in Jerusalem. However, before she had time to settle in and order the necessary equipment, the Arab riots broke out and she and other staff members were trapped in the building for a week, unable to go out into the streets rife with shooting and bombing. Jewish refugees from the outskirts of Jerusalem took shelter in public buildings, including the Straus Health Center, where they had to be provided for and fed. Sarah Bavly took this first task of improvisation in her stride, as she did in later emergency situations, during which her department was called upon to organize, assist and supervise according to the needs of the moment. Among these emergency actions were the provision of food for Haganah outposts during the disturbances of 1936; organization and supervision of food services for the “illegal” immigrants deported to Cyprus; supervision of food services in the ma’barot (transit camps) where new immigrants were housed in the 1950s; and the establishment of field kitchens for the Israel Defense Forces in status nascendi at the time of the siege and liberation of Jerusalem (1947–1948).

Erez Israel’s Dietician

As part of her duties, Sarah Bavly had to initiate and organize nutrition education for the public at large, a task she accomplished through courses, food exhibits, and other methods, all with the assistance of only one qualified teacher. She was also expected to travel between all five Hadassah hospitals and advise on improvements to their dietary departments. From April 1930 she was entrusted with a third task as director of Hadassah school luncheons, a project initiated by Henrietta Szold in 1925, which by the time Bavly took over encompassed eight schools and twelve kindergartens, where approximately 1,000  children were provided with a daily meal on an annual budget of P£ 3,000 provided by Hadassah.

In this role, she ensured systematic training of the teachers involved in preparing the meals at their respective schools and in supervising their pupil-assistants. As a result, the project spread from Jerusalem to other major cities and also to the Lit. "village." The dominant pioneer settlement type of the Jews in Palestine between 1882moshavot. Bavly authored a textbook of nutrition in 1937 for use in elementary schools.

She foresaw the ultimate need—once an independent state was established—for further expansion of all Hadassah’s manifold projects, which developed considerably during the years following her appointment, to include training courses for heads of dietary departments and hospital dietitians, instruction in nutrition and dietetics for nurses, adult education in nutrition, and nutrition research. In 1946 she therefore requested and was granted a scholarship which enabled her to continue her studies at Columbia University, where she received a Ph.D. in nutrition in August 1947. Her thesis topic was “Family Food Consumption in Palestine.” She returned to Jerusalem in the middle of the riots that preceded and accompanied the proclamation of the State of Israel.

In 1953 Sarah Bavly was instrumental in establishing the College of Nutrition and Home Economics with the help of the F.A.O. (Food and Agriculture Organization). Here the training courses for teachers of nutrition and home economics became a full two-year program in which the study of Hebrew, pedagogy, and psychology were set at the same level as at other teacher-training colleges, while nutrition, basic sciences, foods, and home economics constituted a major part of the curriculum. For dietitians, a third year of training was added, devoted primarily to practical work in hospitals.

Continuing Research and Teaching in Retirement

In 1960 Sarah Bavly relinquished her position as head of the Nutrition Department of the Ministry of Education in order to devote herself fully to research and to the College of Nutrition. In 1965 she retired from her position as director and dean of the college, posts which she held since the college was established. She continued with research and publication and taught occasionally in courses for overseas students at the Hebrew University and at the Carmel Institute in Haifa, operated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the course of her long and distinguished career she lectured frequently at international congresses and seminars. She also served as a member of a number of government commissions on various topics, including the poverty level and the teaching of home economics.

In April 1930 Sarah Bavly married Dr. Yehuda Meir Bromberg (b. Kutno, Poland, 1902). Yehuda, who immigrated to Palestine in 1919, conducted research on malaria before going to Naples to study first law and then economics, receiving doctoral degrees in both subjects. Appointed accountant-general of Hadassah in 1929, he later became Assistant Director-General of the Hadassah Medical Organization in Palestine. The couple, who Hebraized their name to Bavly in 1941, had two children—Miriam (b. 1933) and Nathan (b. 1935). Yehuda died in 1943.

After her retirement Sarah Bavly engaged in her hobby of pottery, receiving the qualification of “Designer” from Jerusalem’s House of Design. In 1984 she was designated an honorary Citizen of Jerusalem in recognition of her work in education, training, and research. She died in 1993.

Selected Works

“Family Food Consumption in Palestine.” Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, New York, 1949. Evaluation of Nutrition Education Programmes in Israel. Ministry of Education and Culture, College of Nutrition and Home Economics. Jerusalem, 1969.

Food Consumption and Levels of Nutrition of Urban Wage and Salary Earners’ Families in Israel 1956–1957. Central Bureau of Statistics, Jerusalem, 1960.

Food Habits and their Changes in Israel. Ministry of Education and Culture, College of Home Economics. Jerusalem, 1964.

Levels of Nutrition in Israel 1963–1964, Urban Wage and Salary Earners. Ministry of Education and Culture, College of Nutrition and Home Economics. Jerusalem, 1962.

Levels of Nutrition in Israel 1968–1969. Central Bureau of Statistics, Ministry of Education and Culture, College of Nutrition and Home Economics. Jerusalem, 1972.

“Nutritional Inquiry.” In Inquiry into Poverty and Malnutrition among the Jews of Jerusalem, by Sarah Bavly, Roberto Bachi, and S.V. Berman. Jerusalem: Hadassah Emergency Committee, 1943.

Nutritional Patterns Among 7 rural Communities in Israel 1963. Ministry of Education and Culture, College of Home Economics. Jerusalem, 1966.

Nutritional Patterns of Rural Yemenite and Kurdish Jews in Israel. Ministry of Education and Culture, College of Nutrition and Home Economics. Jerusalem, 1974.

with Cohen, A.M. and Rachel Poznansky. “Change of Diet of Yemenite Jews in Relation to Diabetes and Ischaemic Heart-Disease.” The Lancet 12, no. 2 (1961): 1399.

with Kligler, J., A. Geiger, and D. Gurevich. “An Inquiry into the diets of various sections of the Urban and Rural Population of Palestine.” Bulletin of the Palestine Economic Society 4, no. 4 (1931).

with Mundel, G., K. Gugenheim, and H.S. Halevi, Survey of Food Consumption and Nutritional Status Among the Rural Population in Israel 1959–1960. Ministry of Education and Culture, College of Home Economics. Jerusalem, 1962.

with Poznanski, Rachel and Nathan Kaufmann, Levels of Nutrition in Israel, 1975/76. Jerusalem, Ministry of Education and Culture, 1980.


Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem. File A520.

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How to cite this page

Endevelt, Ronit. "Sarah Bavly." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 13, 2024) <>.